Originally published in Strings, Sept/October 1997 issue, volume 64,
subsequent editing changes have been made to the original article.
Copyright © 1998, Nora Nausbaum, All rights reserved world-wide
Q: What is the difference between the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method?
A: Both the Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method are regularly used to help musicians play their instruments with greater ease and less effort. These two methods are often considered similar because they both teach people to become more aware of their coordination and how they move. But while Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method share some goals, the means by which they do it are quite distinct.
When Frederic Matthias Alexander lost his voice on stage in the 1890s, he decided to investigate the reasons why. He discovered that the head-neck-back relationship is key to good overall coordination and the elimination of habits of tension. Instead of exercises or manipulation, the student learns how to incorporate improved coordination into daily activities, including playing music. The Alexander Technique is taught on a one-to-one basis.
Moishe Feldenkrais developed this method in response to his own injuries during the 1940s. He drew from several sources including martial arts, what he knew of the Alexander Technique, psychology and bio-mechanics. He was a black belt in judo and many of his ideas sought to evoke the qualities of that form: groundedness, grace and ease. Specific criteria for well-organized movement includes using minimal effort, increasing the flexibility of joints, and distributing effort evenly within the neuro-muscular system. The method uses two formats, group work (movement sequences) and individual work (manipulation).
A typical Alexander Technique lesson involves taking a close look at the student's pattern of habitual tension during common movements: bending, walking, reaching, sitting, talking or singing and playing one's instrument. The student learns not to respond to stressful situations with muscular tension, thus improving overall coordination. Part of each lesson is devoted to the teacher assisting the release of tension while the student is lying horizontally.
In Feldenkrais group work clients lie on the floor and are guided through many different sequences (over 2,000) that help differentiate functions of movement. Flexibility and efficiency are achieved through reprogramming the client's nervous system so s/he can make finer distinctions in what is moving, not moving and what level of muscular effort is being used. The goal of manipulation during an individual session is to re-educate the neuro-muscular system toward an accurate sensing of the self. In both the Alexander Technique and in Feldenkrais work the student is fully clothed.
RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) is a major problem for musicians. Each method has its own approach. Alexander Technique sees the root of RSI as an imbalance of the head relative to the top of the spine, creating a pattern of tension involving the neck, shoulder, arm, wrist and hand. Learning about one's habitual patterns leads to using the hands in a lighter, more efficient way.
In Feldenkrais work, the goal in helping musicians with RSI is ensure through manipulation that the body is comfortably stabilized with the larger muscles and larger bony segments responsible for as much movement as possible, thus helping the efficiency of using the hands.
Some good introductory books about the Alexander Technique are Body Learning, by Michael Gelb and The Alexander Technique Manual, by Richard Brennan. Alexander himself wrote four books, which precisely describe what he discovered and how the mind and body function as one. A free catalogue of books is available from AmSAT Books, 1-800-473-0620 or from STAT Books by calling +44 (0)171-352-0666 or from their web site at www.stat.org.uk/statbooks.html.
Feldenkrais introductory books include Relaxercise by Zemach-Bersin and Reese and Awareness Heals: The Feldenkrais Method for Dynamic Health by Steve Shafarman. Moishe Feldenkrais himself wrote many books. Books and tapes are available from Feldenkrais Resources, 1-800-765-1907. Web sites: www.feldenkrais.com or www.stillmountain.com/Feldenkrais.html
Certification for Alexander Technique teachers is through three years of daily study, usually at least 1600 hours, and then certification by one of the many Alexander professional societies. The teacher-trainee learns how to use his or her own body and mind while teaching others.
For Feldenkrais Practitioners, certification requirements are 800-hours, four summers at a course certified by the Feldenkrais Guild. To locate a certified Feldenkrais Practitioner near you, call the Feldenkrais Guild at 1-800-775-2118.
To find out which method would be better for you, try each method and see which you respond to. Alexander Technique teachers and Feldenkrais Practitioners vary in personal styles, skill level, and what is emphasized.
Nora Nausbaum is a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique with a teaching practice in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1988. She received her Masters degree from New England Conservatory of Music in flute performance in 1971 and is a professional flutist as well as teacher of the Alexander Technique. Information about the Feldenkrais Method was supplied mainly by Richard Adelman, certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, also a professional percussionist (conga player) in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nora can be reached at 530-273-5489 or through email at Nora Nausbaum
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